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March 06, 2004

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Breeze-- A Mighty Wind-- But the Audio Editing Blows

Tuesday is my keynote presentation at the NMC Sipring 2004 Online Conference - register now to tune into "Mysteries Revealed! Inside the Maricopa Learning eXchange".

For this presentation I, ahem, went well over the suggested length of 20 minutes, to more than 50 (!) but it covers a lot of ground, and is all pictures, animations, a video, lots of external links, and well, entertaining (that remains to be seen). Note also closing credits with Creative Commons licensed audio.

This was another opportunity to use Macromedia Breeze to create the presentation, authoring in (ugh) PowerPoint, overlaying audio, but publishing to very efficient Flash delivery. I love what it produces- not only much smaller than bloated PPT, but it streams, it scales, you can jump around to any slide, well it is slick. It even manages to provide content passably on a dial-up modem. Well almost- I tried this morning from my mountain hide-away, where we are not even fortunate to get 56k, we max at 24k. The images pop up but the audio stops and starts as it sputters, yet it is accessible over this puny pipe.

Authoring was fairly easy as I had good experience from the October 2003 NMC conference presentation. I shot all the digital photos, developed a layout template (I never use a stock one, yuck), grabbed my screen shots, created some new graphic link buttons, and built the slides. Using the PowerPoint animations helps to set up cue points when you record your audio-- it helps not to have long audio over static screens. I use no bullet points- the slides are mostly title and image(s). Period.

Audio is recorded into PowerPoint via the Breeze record menu. I use a laveleer (cannot spell this) microphone we use with our DV camera, and connect the mike output to the sound card rather than the camera input. For one segment I used the camera to record audio for someone that could not come into my office, this is later digitized on my Mac, edited, and saved as a .WAV file that Breeze can import. I also created/used a few WAV sound effect files for some audio props.

Recording the audio is easy. You more or less page through your scenes, recording the audio for one screen at a time, and if there are timed animation, you use a "Next animation" button to synchronize the audio to the animation.

It would be rare to record this from start to finish. What is nice when you record via the Breeze menu is that you can see each screen as you record. What was mysterious was, if I had recorded some audio, did some other PowerPoint editing, and went back to do more recording, say on slide #34, rather than jumping to slide 34 that was selected in PowerPoint, 8 times out of 10, Breeze would pop me to slide 1, and I would have to click, click, click to slide 34. This got rather tedious when I was in the 90s...

But the real awkwardness of Breeze is the Edit Audio menu- this allows you to see the wave forms for the entire presentation, and cut out unwanted "ums", gaps, pops, etc, you can copy paste audio, you can slide the animation timings- very handy and crucial. What was aggravating here was that unlike the Record Audio mode, when you used the menu to jump to slide 34 to record or edit audio, there was no way to see the slide in the background to help you know where you were recording. But worse was not knowing exazctly where the cursor in the audio timeline would jump to when you clicked the stop button on playback. It seems to jump back to either the last place in the timeline you mouse-clicked OR the beginning of the audio from a slide you selected in a menu.

I have been very conditioned in audio editing for using the space bar to start/stop playback (which does work on stop), but the cursor does not stop where you were listening, it jumps back to that earlier point. I resorted to while in playback mode continually clicking in the timeline so I would not be thrown back 2 minutes from where I was listening.

Another beef- when you import a WAV file, you select which slide it goes into- the import will completely over-write any audio sitting there. I made this mistake at least 3 times, thinking I could import to after a click-selected location in the timeline. The end around was importing all of my WAV audio to an empty slide, and then copying pasting it in the timelines to where I needed it.

Other features sorely needed would be some simple audio edit tools, such as a fade in / fade out filter, better audio volume control. You get much more volume control in iMovie than Breeze. And how about a second sound track, is that too much to ask for? It was very hard to have smoothly integrated sound effects with a single track.

I am hoping a powerful software company like Macromedia (SoundEdit was my standby for 5 years) could beef up this part of Breeze. How does that sound?

Despite my barkings here, I am a major fan of the Breeze platform. I have used it to do audio overviews of our online application systems and able to do screen shots, pop into Powerpoint, overlay audio, and publish in under an hour.

It does blow the doors off of posting a PowerPoint file online as a big fat slug or (worse) PowerPoint to HTML.

blogged March 6, 2004 11:14 AM :: category [ mlx , web good dog ]
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Entertaining indeed! Can't wait to meet the CEO in person. Way to go, Biff!

Commented by: D'Arcy Norman on March 6, 2004 05:20 PM


Hi Alan, your Breeze link is a .con ;o)

Commented by: James Farmer on March 7, 2004 04:59 PM


Thanks James, sorry for the .con job, link is fixed. Shows you who never took kyeboarding class.

Commented by: Alan Levine on March 7, 2004 06:20 PM

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